Online Training is New to RV Industry, Not to Everyone

A Photo of Curt Hemmeler, RVTI executive director

About 18 months ago, I joined the RV industry, but some things stand out as plainly as if they had happened yesterday. I clearly remember in my board meeting more than a year ago, Tim Wegge, owner of Burlington RV Superstore in Wisconsin, specifically asking about developing online training. In October, RV Technical Institute (RVTI) finalized the self-paced online (SPO) Level 1 certification program. Telling him the online training portion was done, complete and had recently launched was immensely satisfying.

Both his initial inquiry and me telling him about the completed work really stand out as memorable moments over the past 18 months. When I demonstrated to him and the RVTI board all that had been accomplished, the presentation was met with great excitement.

The Beginning of Changes

When I first arrived in the RV industry, I found such an online program did not exist. As I traveled and spoke to dealer partners, our supplier partners, our OEM partners and technicians themselves, one issue kept popping up: creating RVTI would result in folks having to come to Elkhart, Indiana, to learn.

Another prevalent matter was the expense such a trip might require—the cost of taking a tech off the floor, the revenue loss from the tech being gone, the travel expenses of sending the person to Elkhart were all at the forefront of technicians’ and our dealer partners’ concerns.

I heard folks mentioning an existing online program, but what they really were referencing was test-taking and similar online classes. The information was still housed in textbook form, a very archaic textbook form. To answer each of these concerns, we needed to build the industry an efficient and effective online program.

Using my past education experience, I wanted to offer the RV industry the ability to deliver a self-paced online training program. We also had to satisfy a second desire for hands-on practical experience.

Many complained the current training program was nothing but textbook information. Some were concerned that technicians using the textbooks, although book smart, had no useful hands-on or practical experience.

I knew we could satisfy the practical experience needs with technology so I threw the idea into the hopper for a time when we would create a self-paced program.

We had originally planned to launch the SPO program either later in 2021 or in 2022, but when COVID-19 hit in March plans changed, and we pulled a team together to move the SPO launch forward. I reached out to Bisk Education, a third-party education company that I had previously worked with for many years. Bisk was among the best at putting a curriculum into an online self-paced program.

I reached out to the company in late March about the possibility of quickly putting the program together. COVID-19 prevented us from onsite teaching, but the pandemic accelerated my ability to launch the SPO curriculum and provide the online training scheduled for later development.

Putting curriculum online solved the big concern many had about traveling to Elkhart as well as alleviated businesses’ potential losses of $8,000 to $10,000 in repair revenue, per diem expenses and time away—all the added expenses dealers might pay by sending a technician to Elkhart for a week.

Launching the SPO program early also lessened the impact on ma and pa dealerships, which might have only one or two techs, allowing them to conveniently access the SPO training.

I stressed to the RVTI team that we did not want to abandon face-to-face training. As related to career-oriented instruction, that approach is the best option. Although face-to-face training is optimal, you can come close to achieving outcomes that mirror a face-to-face interaction if you do the training correctly and appropriately using technology. The new self-paced program offers true value and mirrors face-to-face options.

Delivering face-to-face instruction is important, just as being able to deliver it through authorized learning partners of RVTI is important. Having authorized learning partners allows multi-store dealerships or entities outside the industry the opportunity to obtain face-to-face training on their own using our curriculum.

I didn’t want to do away with the old textbooks. The textbooks are still available to anyone who wants to continue to use them or who believes textbooks are the best way to do training.

By offering self-paced online training, face-to-face instruction through our partners and classes in Elkhart, we have every box checked from a delivery standpoint.

Positive Early Reviews

The Level 1 SPO program officially launched two months ago. So far, it has gone well. Each week, we monitor the different delivery options. By 2021’s end, we want to be able to look back to see what the most popular methods to receive education were.

So far, new SPO training orders are almost doubling each week. Being a new offering, getting the word out about the SPO program to the industry is our biggest challenge. The product is well received, and we have had excellent feedback thus far.

To increase awareness of the new program, we are trying to send something to the masses each day, if not each week. Yesterday, an Indiana dealership ordered training for 25 people. The dealer is signing up utilizing the Indiana Workforce Development program. The government program will pay for employee training through RVTI and is available to other Indiana-based organizations if you are interested.

Technology: The Power Driving the Education

When we started, Bisk Education assigned us a team to help complete our goals. The Bisk team met daily with our RVTI instructors and went line by line through the entire Level 1 certification curriculum.

Keep in mind, Bisk Education specialists are not technicians. Their team consists of educational content design and content experts.

Bisk’s team presented different interactions that simulated experiences technicians might face in the workforce—for instance, a drop test activity or being inside an RV with air conditioner trouble. By presenting a repair issue and then possible solutions, the new curriculum requires a technician to analyze the situation.

As the technician chooses a correct/incorrect response to the problem, additional information is then provided for the technician to pursue, enhancing the learning experience.

Simulated labs are also built into the program that technicians must perform satisfactorily to continue the lesson until they master the lab. The SPO program offers real-life simulations, combined with reading and comprehension, as well as quizzes. So as technicians go through the material, they can take a quiz to confirm/solidify material absorption and content comprehension.

Educating the Bisk team to think like a technician was probably the most challenging aspect of developing the Level 1 SPO curriculum. We were taking content easily understood by the RVTI instructors and helping the Bisk team understand the technical side. But after the first couple weeks of helping the Bisk team understand the technical content RVTI instructors easily comprehend, Bisk’s team improved immensely. They created new material and then provided it to the instructors to review and approve.

SPO training is currently completed only for Level 1. The work is ongoing. We have begun production of Level 2 material, which has three to four times more content than Level 1. Bisk will need much more time to work on the greater expanse of material. Some content from Level 1 can be repackaged in Level 2 because the info functions as a Level 1 review before moving to more complex curriculum.

Here is one example: You might learn Ohm’s Law in Level 1, but as you roll into Level 2 and take the Level 2 electrical portion, Bisk will insert information already created in Level 1 into Level 2 as a review.

Technician Learning 2.0

The Level 1 SPO launch is exciting, allowing us to satisfy an essential industry need. I am equally excited to complete Level 2.

Our online self-paced program is new to the RV industry, but it is not new to the world. The product is just one way RVTI is taking training to the next level. Think of it as RV technician learning 2.0.

As they both roll out in an SPO format, Level 1 and Level 2 will be a great delivery addition to what we have already developed. People will still use face-to-face training through our learning partners or by coming to Elkhart. I hope, and I believe, all new options will deliver equal outcomes. The mission continues one program at a time, one student at
a time.

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